When the nominees were announced for the 87th annual Academy Awards the one common thread amongst all of them was the very light color of their skin. It was a Caucasian love fest. The hashtag #Oscarssowhite quickly started trending. A lot has been made of the mini controversy which highlights the ongoing problem of diversity in entertainment.
|Nominee Luncheon for the 2015 Oscars|
This is a complex topic with a lot of layers. On the surface I truly believe the Academy members are not actively racist. When I use the term actively racist I'm referring to an active campaign or plot to keep black actors out. I don't think there are a bunch of old white guys in a smoky room laughing as they tear up nomination ballets for Selma. I bet if you asked them personally each voter would tell you they support black actors. I suspect they would tell you something akin to "We pick the nominees based purely on the performances and skin color has nothing to do with it." While I know that's what they honestly think they're doing, the process is still infested with problem areas.
Choosing the best is always subjective when it comes to the arts. Picking the movie with the highest sales is easy to find because it's a clear number and calculation everyone can agree on. Picking the best movie however is all based on tastes and preferences. While exact numbers have never been known, reports are that Oscar voters are 94% white and 77% male. This is where the hidden racism creeps in. Unfortunately even the most well intentioned white male voter still probably has a subconscious inclination toward white actors and movies with predominantly white casts. He simply might not be able to identify with a cast of minority actors and therefore doesn't see their work as the best. Although it's not a conscious choice the evidence of this hidden racism becomes more damning when you step back and look at the big picture. Pretend you were looking at a person's Oscar voting record and that person has picked a white man for leading actor every year over the last 25 years. Sure he can claim all the best performances this year just happened to be from white actors but it becomes harder to believe when that person has never voted for a minority actor ever. Do you expect us to believe that in the past 25 years there hasn't been any worthy performances by a black person? While this is an extreme example it illustrates the point that we all see the world through our own filters and those filters can sometimes cloud our perspective. It's the same as if I were tasked with choosing People Magazine's sexiest man alive every year. If I were in charge there would no doubt be a disproportionate amount of men with moobs and facial hair.
When I heard about this story it reminded me of Saturday Night Live. Much like the Academy Awards, SNL has been been criticized for years for it's tremendous lack of diversity. I think Lorne Michaels' idea of diversity is women. Michaels has said in the past that he hires people only based on how funny they are. However his natural inclination toward straight white upper middle class comedy means that he has blinders on for anything outside that realm. When the people making the decisions lack diversity their choices will usually mirror that fact even if they don't intentionally try an exclude people.
The argument that winners and nominees are chosen purely based on talent and performance is also pure bullshit. Regardless of skin color, we all know that winning and Oscar is as much about popularity as it about performance. How many times have they given an award to someone because she was the gorgeous young 'It Girl' of the moment (Jennifer Lawrence) or because he looked so hot in that gladiator armor (Russell Crowe). Awards are given out as an excuse to honor careers and make up for past loses. It can sometimes even work in the favor of minorities. Last year's Best Picture winner 12 Years A Slave won as much for it's quality as it did for it's powerful white guilt. So if they are going to give out awards for trivial reasons why not add affirmative action into that mix.
Every category always has one or two people who you know are never going to win. With affirmative action in mind here are my choice of the white people who could've easily been swapped out for a black person this year:
Best Supporting Actor:
Best Supporting Actress:
The funniest part about all this is that while everyone focuses on black vs white all the Mexican, Gay, Asian, Latino, or fat actors are literally just ignored.